Tag Archives: cattle farming

So this year for Christmas the Hubbit ran over himself with a tractor

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Needless to say, he didn’t pick the little old Ford tractor to get run over by …

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Not this dinky early 40s model, which is the first tractor we bought when we moved out to the farmlet. (Picture taken some years back. We haven’t had any snow this year … and although I should be stressing over climate change, right now it’s working for me. I haven’t the faintest idea how to keep our driveway clear!)

… although, on consideration, that one might have been worse, because although it’s little and cute it has monster wheels designed for gripping soft stuff, like dirt, snow and the flesh of absent-minded old men. In any case, the tractor of choice for his life-altering moment of inattention was this one…

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About 3 tons of He-Power, probably more than you want rolling over your foot-leg-groin-gut-chest, although less horrifying if the tires are smoothish, like those on cars.

If I’m sounding a tad pissed off, it’s partly because this is not how this blog was supposed to go. When I started here, my goal was to entertain, with occasional detours to expound, philosophize, denounce, and share recipes. But the first seven months of this year were so fundamentally shitty that I quit writing altogether until I recognized it was my sole defense against the Black Dog, and since then it’s been one damn shitty thing after another, and now this.

Here’s what happened: The Hubbit was in the workshop getting grain into buckets to feed the cattle before he started on some tractor-related fun-on-the-farm. The tractor takes a while to warm up, so to save time he stood beside it to turn it on. It was supposed to be in neutral. He always  leaves it in neutral. Except this time.

He leaned into the tractor, pushing down the clutch pedal with one hand while he started it with the other. It roared to life, and he released the clutch. The tractor leaped forward. The big rear wheel trapped his foot, rolled up against his leg, and slammed him down onto the gravel scattered over the concrete apron at the door of the shop. It crunched over his pelvis, abdomen and shoulder, before – oh, the sweet grace of God – it rolled off him, rammed into some barrier inside the shop, and stopped.

I was in the corral, around the corner of the shop, pitching apples into a wheelbarrow to feed to the cattle. I heard him yelling. “I’m coming!” I called, starting to close the gate to the stall where the apples were so that my old horse, Vos, wouldn’t get in and eat them all and founder himself. The Hubbit kept calling.

It’s annoying, living with a deaf person. They call you, and you say “Yes?” You say, “I’m coming!” and they don’t hear. They keep calling. Sometimes it’s as though they’re not even trying to listen for an answer. Just call, call, call until you appear. Sometimes it’s so annoying that I very deliberately finish what I’m doing and take my time about going to him, refusing to be rushed.

But not this time. There was something in his voice that snatched my attention so that I left the gate swinging wide, let the apple-laden wheelbarrow tip over, ignored Vos as he shoved forward to grab what he could. I wrested the big corral gate open, hurried to the tractor – I’m too damn fat to run, but I can hurry. He was on the ground and at first I thought he’d just fallen – it happens; his knees are shot and the dogs are clumsy. But he kept calling until I was right up next to him and put my hand on him. He appeared to be bleeding from his eyes, his face was bloody and scratched. “Get an ambulance!” he wheezed.

We live 20, 30 minutes from town. While we waited I hurry-hurry-hurried inside for blankets and pillows – not much use against the cold ground – I didn’t dare move him – but better than nothing. He’d fallen below the bucket of the tractor, and I didn’t trust the hydraulics to keep it up, and even more I didn’t trust myself to raise it, so I scurried about finding random objects that I could prop under it so it wouldn’t drop and crush him. I called the Cool Dude, who called our neighbor Light Man, who arrived and then left immediately to chase down the ambulances and lead them down our private road. (They brought in a helicopter as well; it landed in Vos’ pasture, but he was too busy eating apples to care.)

And then the the bustle of people whose clothes glowed luminous orange and yellow, reassuring smiles, figuring-it-out frowns, staying out of the way, staying close enough to answer questions. A wail of pain as they lifted him, the juddering roar of the unwanted helicopter leaving, the wail of the ambulance on the road to the hospital. Cool Dude insisted on taking me in and then didn’t listen when I told him the way to the new hospital location. His battered, swollen face on the white hospital pillow. Internal bleeding that demanded a flight to a better hospital in Spokane. I came home when they took him away, took a shower, threw some clothes in a bag, fed the dogs. I put fresh bedding on the bed so it would be nice when he came home – which seemed to make sense at the time.

He has a fractured pelvis, broken ribs, a cracked scapula, and bruising, but no organ damage. The scans also revealed a lump in his throat – something unrelated to the accident – so before they released him they biopsied that, which gives us something extra to think about.

I spent the first interminable week in Spokane sitting, first in ICU then in the orthopedic ward. I kept insisting that I hadn’t married him for his looks so his brain better be okay until, to shut me up, they showed me scans that proved the wheel had missed his head. I cracked inappropriate jokes about every indignity, photographed under his hospital gown so he could see the astonishing size and purpleness of his swollen groin, nagged him to suck on one plastic tube and blow into another, coaxed him to eat, bitched when his blood sugar soared, applauded when it dropped, and, hour after hour, waited for the doctors to come.

He’s been in rehab now for a week, and the waiting continues. He can sit up, can get from his bed to his wheelchair, can use a portable commode if they get it to him in time, but it’ll be a while before he can walk. He’s on heavy doses of pain medication, so of course he also needs laxatives, and … well, suffice to say they’ve spent the past few days figuring out how much of those he needs and how long they take to work. I’d like to think that next time the need for laxatives arises they’ll be in less of a hurry for them to work before they wallop him with an extra dose, but since the people giving the laxatives aren’t the people cleaning up when they do what they’re meant to do, that’s by no means certain.

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The Hubbit’s little princesses, Patchee and Ntombi, are learning to make do with me. Today I took them to visit him for the first time. Ntombi was most interested in befriending the man in the other bed, whose wife had brought snacks, but Patchee trembled and lay down under the Hubbit’s wheelchair, and when it was time to leave she begged me to let her stay.

I visit him for an hour or two most afternoons. Usually I take a dog or two. Sometimes we chat; sometimes we seem to have said everything we will ever have to say to each other. They put him through an array of tests when he arrived and, for the first time in his life, he didn’t ace the cognition test. His world has shrunk; it encompasses his pain scale, his physical therapy exercises, his carb intake, his blood sugar count, his bowels. He has a pile of books that he doesn’t read. For the first time in as long as I’ve known him he watches television. I’ve bought him a Lumosity subscription for Christmas, and when he’s dull and spacey I release my inner bitch and pick fights with him over his failure to despise that asshole in the White House as comprehensively or intensely as I do. (Sometimes it takes a poke with a sharp stick – or the verbal equivalent – to send a good surge of oxygen-laden red blood cells shooting brainwards. One does one’s wifely best.)

My world is misshapen and discombobulated, and to find my way around it I’m redefining the boundaries of what matters, and excising everything else with a sharp and ruthless blade. Some days I look at the weeks or months ahead and blaze with a kind of excitement – this is a shake-up, an opportunity to change, to renew our marriage, our life, ourselves. I’m acutely conscious of God’s grace, and hungry to draw close to Him. I make lists of the things I can make better, develop strategies for personal growth and home improvements. Other days I drag myself out of bed and put one foot in front of the other until it’s bedtime again, and then sometimes I can sleep.

Let’s talk. Have you had periods in your life when every time you thought things were as bad as they could be they got worse? How did you cope?

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Also goats and cows

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If you follow Rarasaur (and you really should) you will find that sometimes she takes hold of your brain and turns it upside down like a pocket in a washing machine, and extraordinary things fall out. This is what fell out of my brain this evening.

I have never milked a cow. A friend, then a neighbor, tried to teach me to milk a goat, and she gave me goats milk that was delicious to drink and made wonderful soft cheese. The Hubbit and I were just just a few years into farming. All things seemed possible. So I decided I needed goats of my own.

Then one day the Hubbit saw two nannies on Craigslist who had been pets for a few years and were being given away for free. They had never been bred, or milked, and we found out after we brought them home that they weren’t really that accustomed to being pets either. I liked them, though, and I named the Saanen-cross Mary, and the La Mancha became Dulcinea.

This is a working farm, and everything is supposed to earn its keep. That is The Rule, as laid down by the Hubbit. (It doesn’t apply to my old horse or any of the dogs, all of whom are more cuddly than useful, but he is adamant that the exceptions stop there. More-or-less. Sometimes The Rule doesn’t really apply to me either … but I’m also always up for a cuddle.) My point is, there is no room for virgin goats on a working farm. Our next door neighbors had a billy goat, so we invited him over for a visit.

Billy goats have a bad reputation for reeking and raunchiness, and it’s entirely justified. This billy, and apparently he wasn’t unusual, would make himself irresistible by sticking his head between his front legs and peeing on his face. I think he peed pure acid, because his face was covered with raw bald patches. If we went out into the pasture he would rush up and try to rub it on us – behavior we appreciated about as much as the ladies did. In the end, however, he did what he was there to do and went home, and in the fullness of time Dulcinea and Mary produced kids.

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Dulcinea and three brand new babies

There is nothing in the world as enchanting as a baby kid … except a whole lot of baby kids . I wish I had photographs, but this was before I had a phone with a camera on it, and anyway I’ve always been more interested in just looking than in recording. With baby kids in the pasture it’s about impossible to get anything done, they’re just so much fun. I set them up with logs and tires and random other odds and ends, and they spent their days leaping on, off and over. It’s the best part of having a farmlet!

Then, when they’re six months old, if you live on a working farm, your husband puts treats in a bucket and leads them around the side of the barn while you sit in a stall on a hay bale with your hands over your ears, and their mamas cry and cry, and you cry with them, and for days afterwards they glare at you with their yellow slotted eyes. Young goat is delicious, but it’s hard to eat; you feel like a cannibal.

This post started out being about milking, so, to get back to my point… The reason the nannies had to have kids was to bring in their milk. These were specifically milking breeds. You have to milk them and it’s better not to let them feed their babies; their udders get huge, and when kids nurse they slam their hard little heads into those udders and cause damage. But my two ladies would have nothing to do with my rude, clumsy fingers, and in the end they developed lumps of scar tissue from the relentless head-butting, which made it milking them properly impossible.

We tried keeping milk goats for two years, during which my neighbor continued to supply me with milk for cheese (so delicious! Such a frustrating reminder of my farmwife failings!) The first year my first Malinois, Destra, killed one of the babies, which was hugely traumatic. The second year she murdered two of them and I’d had enough. Kill day was just a couple weeks away and I couldn’t face inflicting more pain on my girls. (The cows really don’t care. They’ll stand and watch the kill guy do his work, and then mosey off with their latest calves to find another patch of sweet grass to munch on, and by the next day they’re not even calling the missing members of their herd. But goats are different. They know.)

I feel a bit weird writing about this, having sort of dedicated this post to Ra, who I think is vegetarian. But … well, this is what fell out of the pocket in my head, so I’ll just run with it, I guess.

Anyway, I found a goat rescue and we loaded up Mary, Dulcinea and their three remaining kids (the rescue later named them Wynken, Blynken and Nod and found them a job together as lawnmowers) and we drove in the truck for seven hours, across the Cascades and then up the I-5 almost as far as the Canadian border, and then five-and-a-half hours back home again. (We didn’t get lost on the way home.) The Hubbit has never quite forgiven me for this, and I will likely never get to have goats again, but that’s probably just as well. I have arthritis in my thumbs now, so milking is no longer possible.

Our cows don’t need to be milked. Their udders get large, but their calves can drink all the milk they produce and the head-butting doesn’t seem to bother them.

Rugen - Granny and Grandpa farm's house

Rugen, my grandparents’ farmhouse in the Northern Transvaal. I look at this picture and I can smell the Cobra wax polish that made her floors and furniture gleam. I can taste the pawpaws, blessed with the last coolness of the early morning. My grandmother kept peacocks and I loved to collect their tail feathers, but she would never have them in her house; she said they were unlucky.

When  I was a child my grandparents had a cattle farm in the Northern Transvaal in South Africa. They raised mainly beef cattle, but they had a few cows for milk. When we visited I went every morning to the milking shed, and then I followed the buckets of milk to the room with the cream separator. I had my little tin mug and I was allowed to hold it under the spout where the warm milk foamed out, and whenever no one was looking I’d stick it under the spout to steal the thick yellow cream.

Then my grandfather would take me out into the orchard and we’d pick a few pawpaws for breakfast. My grandmother would slice them and clean out the shiny black wet bitter-tasting seeds, and after we’d eaten our pawpaw she’d dish up big bowls of hot oatmeal or mieliemeal porridge and sprinkle on a thick crust of sugar, and I was allowed to pour on as much cream as I wanted.

Let’s talk. Have you ever milked anything? Or drunk fresh cream? What would fall out of the pockets in your head if I turned you upside down?

Kill day

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We usually do it in late fall, after the flies are gone but before we start feeding hay.  It felt weird to do it on Labor Day, wrong to rob them of the last weeks of summer. But at a time of year when our pasture should be lush it is looking tired. That’s why I scheduled kill day early – supposedly next week Monday, but Shane the kill guy and I got our wires crossed and he came today.

Today we killed the first cattle that we’d raised from birth on this land. I know, gruesome … but it kinda feels like a milestone.

We used to buy steers from auction and from private sellers, buying in spring and pasturing them until fall of the following year. But I didn’t like them being taken from their mothers so young, and also we kept buying duds – not every time, of course, but often enough a steer failed to grow as expected, which meant less income from meat, which meant less money for hay through the following winter. So I started niggling at the Hubbit about making our own baby beefs, and he rolled his eyes in that resigned sort of way and bought our first heifer.

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Tshepo became more friendly after she learned about treats.

Her previous owner told us she used to keep her on a halter, tied up to graze in different areas of the yard, so we thought she’d be easy. We were wrong. She turned out to be a bloody-minded baggage, who took one look at our nice big pastures – bigger than a backyard, anyway – before she stuck her tail in the air and refused to have anything to do with us. Undaunted, we added another cow and her heifer. I named them Tumelo, Tshepo and Lerato – which are Sepedi words meaning Faith, Hope and Love.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not a sentimental idiot. I don’t name the steers. They are food, and you don’t name food. The first steers we brought home we named Mac and Arby, but that was a joke. Also, naming them after hamburger chains was the Hubbit’s sweetly subtle way of reminding me that they were beef, not pets. He seemed to find it necessary to make a point of this. I’m not sure why … Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I couldn’t bear the way my nannies looked at me after we murdered their kids, and eventually insisted we deliver the whole lot of them to a goat rescue 300 miles away. But that was then, and goats are smarter than steers. In any case, I don’t name the meat.

Of course some of them have names when they arrive. When that happens, I have to respect it. Like the little guy who liked to stay quietly by himself in a corner of the field – obviously he was Ferdinand; I didn’t just name him after some book character. And the goofy one with a sickle moon on his forehead was Moonboy, as clearly as if he’d been wearing a name tag.

Okay, there were also last year’s calves, Kitty and Obie – but Kitty was the first calf to be actually born here, so obviously she had to have a name by way of acknowledging the event, and the Hubbit named Obie; I had nothing to do with that. And … okay, fine, this spring’s steers are named Pi and Eezee, but there are good reasons for that.

Usually I don’t name the meat.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let me get back to telling you about today. It started fairly leisurely. I yawned and stretched and thought about getting out of bed, and at about 7.15 I noticed that Shane had left me a voice mail yesterday evening, to say he’d be here between 7.00 and 7.30AM. It sounded like the kind of message he always leaves the day before he comes … not the week before.

I called him. “Shane?” I said.

“I’m sorry, I’m running late, I’m on my way!” He sounded stressed. As for me, I went straight from “Ho hum tra-la-la” to “Fuckadoodledoo!” and rushed off in search of the Hubbit.

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Lerato, expressing an opinion.

Here’s the thing: we have a routine – more of a ritual, really – for kill day. A few days ahead of time we split our small herd. The doomed go into one pasture and get special treats, not because they need to put on weight but … just because. Meanwhile, the others get used to being without them. On kill day, before Shane arrives, the Hubbit puts the horses into their stalls, while I stay in bed with a pillow over my face and one ear exposed, tensely listening for rifle shots. After a while I phone the Hubbit and he tells me everything’s okay, it all went according to plan, yes they are dead, no they didn’t suffer, yes the others are fine. Then I can get up and get on with the day. But I wait until they no longer have faces before I go outside to thank Shane personally, and admire the marbling in the meat. (I like Shane. He never has to shoot twice.)

Well, there was no time for any rituals today. There wasn’t even any time for me to get used to the fact that I’d condemned my favorite cow to the freezer. There definitely wasn’t time to feed her treats. That made a crappy situation even crappier. Sometimes I hate being a grownup!

For a while the Hubbit had been quietly insisting that three cows plus their progeny plus two horses was too much for our pasture to carry, and I’d been loudly declaiming, “But we can’t live without Hope!” (Tshepo, aka Hope, was the smallest cow, so least likely to produce a large calf and most likely to get into trouble if trying to birth a large calf.) Well, last week I accepted that he was right, which is something that happens more often than he likes to admit (me accepting, I mean; the silly fellow thinks he’s always right, hahaha). But it made me sad because I’d become fond of her, and she was supposed to grow old with us. Her independence, her bossy way of marching over to see what I wanted if I went into the pasture, her enthusiasm for treats … they reminded me of me.

Well, anyway … At about 7.30, Shane’s white truck rumbled down the dirt road and through our gate. All the cattle in our neighbors’ pastures clustered in groups behind their fences and watched. Our girls and their two little boys were relaxing together at the far end of their pasture, but they got up and thundered alongside the fence, keeping pace with the truck. I don’t know why they do that. I’ll swear they know what he’s there for, but they act like it’s a holiday every time.

I was already up; it was too late to stay in bed so I hid behind my computer. Through the window I watched the horses galloping up and down their pasture, snorting and stamping, their tails like banners. After a while,  I went outside to say hi to Shane. The carcasses, clothed only in thick jackets of fat, looked enormous. The heads, skinned and staring blindly, lay in a heap to one side. The Hubbit and his friend Cool Dude were busy sorting various inside bits according to whether they were for human or canine consumption. Between the dogs and various friends, very little is wasted.

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Men at work. I’m glad I get to hide away!

After Shane was done and had left to deliver the beefs to the butcher, Cool Dude brought a wheelbarrow heaped with innards up to the workshop. It always startles me how hot meat is even several hours after killing. We loaded it into big plastic bags and put it inside a chest freezer to cool, because warm meat is rubbery, making it difficult to cut and also disgusting. Later the Hubbit backed his truck up to the shop door, and while he and CD cut the almost-chilled meat into manageable lumps, I slapped away swarms of flies and stuffed it into Ziploc bags, which went into the dog meat freezer.

So that was my Labor Day, and I know it probably sounds completely horrible to you, but I liked it. Not the killing, and not the betrayal – I don’t really think cows feel betrayed, but I feel as though I betray them. The price of their contented existence is their lives, which is better than most farm animals get, but undeniably a one-sided deal. At the same time, eliminating anthropomorphism from the equation, I like that, having chosen to eat meat, I can also choose to ensure that the creatures who provide it experience lush pasture and sunshine, companionship, peace … and, at the end, the grace of a single bullet while grass is still sweet on their tongue.

How about you? Do you eat meat? Do you care what kind of life it lived before it became meat? Would you eat it if you knew its name?

Fun on the farm

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I really wish I didn’t suck so much at blogging. I’m constantly noticing, even photographing, things I mean to tell you about, and then I forget or get distracted and don’t write them down. Meanwhile I’ve reached that life stage where you start reconnecting with your old (holy cow, some of them are ooooold) friends from school and university years, and they say, “So what are you doing these days?” and I want to say, “Oh, too much to squeeze into one Facebook comment – but go take a look at my blog!” So this post is for old friends.

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Vos takes a bow on my hugel-mound

Right now it’s about noon on a pleasant summer day – not too hot, a bit windy. Sitting at my computer I can look through my window and see, in the distance, the Columbia River with its fringe of trees … closer in our north pasture with cows lazing about on the green … and, closer still, an expanse of dirt that will, when we get around to planting it, be lawn, because the Hubbit doesn’t share my desire for wild grasses and other native plants and I’m tired of arguing about it. In any case, to be honest, when it comes to gardening I’m better at conceptualizing than doing. Meanwhile, we have a flat expanse of dirt that the horses visit about once a day because they’ve decided it’s the best place to roll. In the middle of the flatness is a mound – dirt piled on compost piled on logs – because I read about hugelkultur and wanted to try it. Vos loves rolling up against this mound, the better to scratch his back, and he really doesn’t care if it gets flat and misshapen in the process.

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I’m quite sure digging the pond had nothing at all to do with a boyish desire to play with a large machine…

I can also see what we call the pond area. When we bought this property the Hubbit took into his head that he wanted a pond. A big pond. I mean, he was talking a quarter acre, and although he didn’t quite manage that he did his best. He spent an entire day digging dirt out of the pond and dumping it in a large pile in the middle of what is now the south pasture, and then we got involved in a whole lot of other things, and there the hole in the ground and its matching heap still sit, waiting for inspiration to strike, energy to surge, and pennies to rain down from heaven. One day we will have a swimming hole, and also a raised up picnic spot. For now, the cattle mosey up to the pond area to get water, hay and attention, and it’s where we keep them in winter.

We have seven cattle at the moment. The three cows are Tumelo (Faith), Tshepo (Hope) and Lerato (Love, who is also Tumelo’s mother). Last year Tshepo and Lerato gave us two heifers, Obie and Kitty-Kat. This year we were expecting three calves, since Tumelo was old enough to be bred, and I was all excited to blog about it, but thought I’d wait until the third one came because I just knew that, sooner or later, I’d get to be up to my armpit in a cow’s vagina – which is exactly the sort of experience one wants to blog about – and I didn’t want to jump the gun.

Jonathan, Pi and Lerato

Our young helper Peter Pan, with Pi and Lerato. Pi is maybe 10 minutes old here, and weighs around 100 lbs.

Well, first Lerato gave us Pi (born March 14, aka Pi Day), and he was huge. It took two of us to pull him out of her, and she’s a big cow. So I was worried sick for the following couple weeks, waiting for Tumelo and Tshepo. It was Tumelo’s first and Tshepo is a small cow, so there was real potential for trouble. Every night we’d go out several times to check on them – and this was in March, in Washington, so we were sliding and crunching through ice and snow. One evening I went out and nothing seemed to be happening, and quite by accident my flashlight illuminated a small black creature who had arrived with no fuss at all. So that was Tumelo’s rent paid; I named her calf Eezee. Two down, Tshepo still to go. Every day I fed her treats to win her trust, so that if she had difficulties she’d let me get close enough to help her. Day after day, her belly got bigger and bigger. And every day nothing happened. Nothing at all. Eventually we realized she was just fat. The bull had stayed only three weeks instead of the usual four – we let him go early because he was bored with so few cows and kept breaking out of their pasture – so evidently he’d missed her Magic Moment.

I was going to tell you more, about chickens and plowing and other fun farmy stuff – but that will have to wait. There is a Smell. On a farm it is not unusual for things to smell, but this is different. This is a Smell riding a Harley. It rumbles. It is going places.

Aaand … here comes the Hubbit to tell me about it.

So apparently the pump in our septic tank has died, and he is going to fix it, which will involve crouching over the open drain with his head inside … and this Smell isn’t merely riding a Harley; it’s wearing a Hell’s Angel jacket and carrying a ball peen hammer. Therefore I have to be there. To fish him out, if he falls in.

This is what happens when you marry Senior MacGyver and then go live on a farm. He can still fix pretty damn near anything, but his knees don’t bend as well as they used to, and sometimes he gets a little unsteady. It’s just as well I still think he’s cute.

 

So what are you doing these days? Have you ever been tempted to give up city life and go live on a farm? If your significant other fell into a septic tank, would you pull them out?